Honeycrisp Apple Pecan Crumb Bars: Yezzi-Gate

For KTY who knows how hard headed I can be and helps me fuel it.
For David Yezzi, for being such a tremendous wordsmith that this woman went slightly insane to get you read.

Now that oldest Daughter is in middle school, I find myself at a loss as to how to connect to her teachers.  I’ve cooked something for a recent teachers’ luncheon they had at the school, but I didn’t stay around to see them consume the food, nor did I show my face in relation to the food –  I was, if you will, a faceless caterer.

Without that personal connection with teachers I’m used to when sending my children to school, I’ve had to make evaluations and judgements from afar – which generally speaking isn’t entirely the best thing for anyone, but it’s what I do.  From the first days of middle school, Daughter #1 came home from school and reported to me different things about her teachers, all of whom she found wonderful and I mentally took notes calculating and noticing these little hidden signs that something wasn’t going to go well in class.  I mentally evaluated curriculum, syllabi, teaching style, homework load, homework rigor, testing, testing rigor, and any tiny bit of data I could get my hands on and squeeze out information to understand and know the different teachers that Daughter #1 had.  I felt often that I was a blind man trying to figure things out piecemeal, with only little bits of information to make sense of the world.

All my evaluation was tested when Daughter #1 came home with a simple assignment: choose a poem to recite aloud to the class and write an essay about. I quickly and enthusiastically suggested that she choose a poem by my good friend’s brother, David Yezzi (I know not the poet personally), recently published in The Atlantic, “Paperwhites.”  It was a poem that I personally had fallen in love with when it came out, and the fact that I was close friends with the poet’s sister didn’t hurt either.  It was a beautiful poem and, when I showed it to #1, she also immediately connected to it. We talked about personification, some of the imagery, the lines, and had a lovely mini discussion around it.  She printed it out, and prepared to take to show to to her teacher for approval.

The next day, #1 came home and said, “My teacher says it has to be a poet by a famous person.”
“It is published  in a magazine, a highly regarded one. It’s fine.”
“No, she says it has to be from an poet who is famous.”
“How did you introduce the poem to her?”
“I said, ‘This poem is written by my mom’s friend’s brother.'”
“Honey, I assure you, David Yezzi is famous. He’s not just Auntie Katie’s brother. Google him.”
#1 dutifully did so and went to school the next day, girded with additional information, and I began my mental character assassination of a teacher I didn’t know.

The following day, #1 came home and said, “I need to find a different poem.  It needs to be from a book.”
“The poem was published in a magazine, and he has poetry books already published.”
“No. She says it has to come from a BOOK, not a magazine.”
“I’m sure that’s not what she meant.  She just wants to know that the poem is something of quality.  I assure you that this is.”
“No.  She told the entire class it had to come from a book, not any other source.”
Fumingly, I grabbed one of my ancient anthologies and began suggesting a few poems for her. Then an additional list of qualifications began to spill out from #1.  “It has to be at least 4 stanzas long.  It can’t rhyme.  There has to be imagery. There needs to be a metaphor. It has to come from a book.”
“In other words, she wants you to bring a poem from a dead white man?”
“What do you mean mom?”
“Never mind.”

The next day, I sent her to school with a beautiful historical poem about Japanese Internment titled, “In Response to Executive Order 9066: All Americans of Japanese Descent Must Report to Relocation Centers” by Dwight Okita, after explaining to her what internment was, and mentioning that she’d be reading Farewell to Manzanar this year, figuring that the poem would be a good connection to curriculum. Again #1 absorbed the poem, loved it and was ready to present it to the teacher.

Again it was rejected (it was deemed too unusual) and my inner-English-teacher beast fumed. I decided at all costs, I would have #1 read and write about a David Yezzi poem, and went to his sister for help. She heard my plea and that day began sending screen shots of poem after poem as my book of David Yezzi poetry hadn’t arrived yet. I had to mentally cull the ones that didn’t meet the standard.  This one was out because it had some rhyming.  Another cut for its brevity.  Another one ruled out for its use of the word Hell.  For nearly 40 minutes, David Yezzi’s sister patiently tried to find a poem that would meet the insane requirements of a teacher who would not see beyond her requirements, so that her friend (me) would feel that she had the last word.

I admit it.  I wanted the last and final word. At one point in the midst of the battle,  I yelled out to #1, “I’m just going to BUY her the book and MARK UP THE PAGES!” to which #1 calmly responded, “Don’t start a fight mom.  Just help me find a good poem.”

In the end, #1 took to school four different poems, with the hopes that the David Yezzi poem, “Crane” would be picked from among the other poets by dead white men.  I kept my fingers crossed and patiently waited for the end of day.  When #1 came into the car, she said, “The David Yezzi poem didn’t get picked.  She approved the poem by Robert Lowell.”  I sighed and felt my head fall in defeat.

Waiting for me when I got home was David Yezzi’s book of poetry, Birds of the Air, and I felt a bit of sorrow at the moment.  Had I ordered the book earlier, had I done it sooner, had I – many moments of regret hit me.  I was musing when #1 said, “Mom.  Tomorrow is her birthday. I’m going to make her a card.”
“Do you want to give her a present?”
“What kind of present do you have, mom?”
“I just got David Yezzi’s beautiful book of poetry.  I think she will appreciate it.”
“Are you trying to start a fight?”
“No.  I’m not. I just want to give her this book of poetry, and next year, maybe when someone wants to read a David Yezzi poem, she’ll know it comes from a book.”
“So, we’re just going to give her this book of poetry?”
“Yes.  This beautiful book of poetry and a card that you make for her.”

A few days ago, #1 came home with a thank you card from the teacher.  It read, “Thank you so much for the lovely card.  I also want to thank you for the beautiful book of poems, Birds of the Air by David Yezzi!  What a perfect gift!

And although she got the last words in, I feel I got the closure I needed.  Yezzi-gate over and out.

In the same way I’m stubborn about stupid things, I can also get stubborn about seasonal foods.  The freshest, most delicious, new crop of organic Honeycrisp apples appeared at our local Costco a few weeks ago, and I bought one tray, despite the hefty price tag ($18) as apples are the fruit that continues to thrill #1. Even though the September-California weather was screaming summer, the fall fruit arrival made me want to scream fall! I had a mini-debate with the weather, complaining that if the apples were out, the weather just had to change to fall. And still California summer weather continued, and I sat, waiting for fall.

I figured if fall wouldn’t come in the weather, I could get fall in my food.  These bars are my cry for something to be fall in this crazy, dry, unrelenting California summer – I am longing for something cozy, homey, and rustic to take me away.  Rich and buttery, warm and spicy – it’s the perfect fall food, even if the weather outside says otherwise.

Honeycrisp Apple Pecan Crumb Bars
Makes 9×13 pan, about 12 to 16 bars, depending on your cut
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups all purpose flour
1¼ cups light brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 Honeycrisp apples, or granny smith, peeled, cored, and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350.  Grease 9X13 baking pan.  In a large bowl or a bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Cut butter into chunks and add to bowl and mix on low until mixture comes together into crumbly bits.  

Set aside 1 cup of crumb mixture, and the remaining mixture pat evenly into the baking pan.  Bake for 15 minutes, until top is golden.

While bar base is baking, toss apples slices with lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon.  Spread apples evenly over baked crust, then sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture and pecans.  Bake for 35 minutes, until apples are tender and juices bubbling.  Let cool completely before cutting.

 Printable recipe

If fall doesn’t want to come to me, I’ll go hunt it down with one of these.  

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